The Basic Functions of Government


A government is a group of people elected to make laws for everyone. The United States has a democracy, which means that people get to elect representatives, or members of Congress, to make laws. There are two chambers in Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House has 435 voting members, divided by state, and the Senate has 100 senators, two for each of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. When a law is created, it must be passed through both of these branches before becoming a law. Each branch has its own process for researching, changing, and discussing the bill before it is voted on. This is called a checks and balances system.

There are three basic functions of government: providing security, regulating access to certain goods, and providing services that aren’t profitable or practical for private industry to provide. Governments can do this by taxing and spending money on things like schools, police departments, and mail carriers. Governments also create a structure by which these goods and services are distributed to the public, including those who can’t afford them.

The earliest forms of government evolved as people recognized that protecting themselves against other groups was easier if they stayed together in groups and recognized that some members of the group should have more power than others. These early governments developed the idea of sovereignty, or the right of a group to be free from other groups’ interference.

Governments protect their citizens from external threats by maintaining armed forces and carrying out intelligence activities. They can stop spies and other unauthorized immigrants from entering the country, and they can impose economic sanctions against foreign countries that might harm their citizens.

Finally, government regulates access to certain goods that everyone needs but that private companies don’t find it profitable or practical to produce in large enough quantities at affordable prices. These goods include national defense, education, and public transportation. Governments can provide these services by providing them themselves or through contracts with private businesses.

It’s important to understand that people don’t give government its authority; it has to be given to them. The Founders understood this, which is why they gave government the ability to act only in response to specific problems that can’t be addressed in other ways. They believed that if government tried to solve too many problems, it would interfere with the invisible hand that provides so much of the economy’s growth. It is this framework that helps to prevent government from overreaching, or “going too far,” as some have argued. This has helped the American economy to thrive for over 200 years.